Q&A: Benoit-Swan Pouffer of Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet

The Artistic Director of Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet on his distinctive voice and the company’s upcoming Dallas performance.

Cedar Lake Artistic Director Benoit-Swan Pouffer (Left) and Ballet Master Alexandra Damiani (Right). Photo: Francois RousseauBallet Master

Cedar Lake Artistic Director Benoit-Swan Pouffer (Left) and Ballet Master Alexandra Damiani (Right). Photo: Francois Rousseau

Dallas — The Dallas arts community is thrilled to welcome back the fiercely unique Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet as part of TITAS’ 2012-13 season. Cedar Lake wowed audiences with its sexy, Euro-styled dance installation in 2011; and this year’s program promises more diversity and excitement with works by famed Czech choreographer Jiří Kylián, U.K.-based Hofesh Shechter and Canada’s Crystal Pite.

Born and raised in Paris, Benoit-Swan Pouffer taught outreach programs in South Africa and master classes throughout Europe before joining Cedar Lake as Artistic Director in 2005. Pouffer’s extensive career as a professional dancer includes seven years with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, seasons with Philadanco and Donald Byrd/The Group. His original works for Cedar Lake include SeedBetween Here and Now, HammerVastav and Glassy Essence.

TheaterJones asks Benoit-Swan Pouffer about the company’s broad appeal, his long-term goals for the company and how his international experiences influence his choreography.

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet makes its highly-anticipated return to the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Winspear Opera House on Saturday, presented by TITAS.

TheaterJones: How does it feel to be returning to Dallas?

Benoit-Swan Pouffer: We are very excited to be back in Dallas! We are now starting to establish a relationship with the Dallas audience because it’s our second time to be in the city.

What can the audience expect to see this time around?

This time around we are going to show three very different works from our repertory. First will be Indigo Rose from Jiří Kylián which will be a U.S. premiere; second is Ten Duets on a Theme Of Rescue by Crystal Pite a Canadian choreographer; and finally Violet Kid from Hofesh Shechter.

For someone seeing Cedar Lake for the first time, how would you describe the companys movement stylings?

Photo: Francois Rousseau

Photo: Francois Rousseau

The three works are very different from one another giving the company the opportunity to express themselves outside the standard repertory. So, I do believe the works we are offering will give the audience a taste of what’s influencing dance right now. Jiří Kylián, the choreographer of Indigo Rose, has been a dance maker for the last 30 or 40 years so, he’s really a point of reference.

Bringing these choreographers into an intimate setting will excite audiences and help them see into the core of who we are as a dance company. Every dancer has a story to tell. Seeing these 16 dancers onstage really gives you the sense of how we work in a group as well as the diversity of the company going from one work to another.

What qualities do you look for in a guest choreographer?

What stands out to me is truly an organic experience. The choreographer coming in must have his own distinctive language and distinctive idea of what he is putting onstage. It’s also about having a sensitivity to one’s own destiny and being able to grow as an artist. In the end it is a relationship I am establishing with my dancers and it’s extremely important for me to challenge them both artistically and physically.

How did growing up in Paris influence your choreographic choices today?

My dance education in Paris gave me a solid base and a solid ground to really explore new work. I think my taste and what I’m drawn to right now is truly the international work that you don’t get the chance to see in America. We like to believe that Cedar Lake is the ambassador of really showing work that you haven’t seen yet.

Another thing is we are really trying to push these choreographers to create new work on the company so we can push the art form itself. It’s also an opportunity for the dancers to really work with the choreographer and have this sense of building something together.

Photo: Erez Sabag

Photo: Erez Sabag

Did you find it challenging to adapt to the dance culture in America?

I would not say it was challenging, but more exciting. From a young age I was drawn to America and especially the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York. With all the opportunities here I really feel like I am living the American dream. I mean I was running my own company when I was only 31 years old. I have also been given the opportunity to create a new voice, a voice of an American company run by a European. I do have the senseitivity and education of a French person, but I have been here 20 years now so, it’s really the best of both worlds.

What are you long-term goals for the company?

We are a young company and I feel like it would be very arrogant of me to say that we have arrived so, what I can say is that we have broken the ice as far as establishing who we are. So, my goal is to keep forging this company and keep pushing the boundaries and limitations of dance while opening it to a wider audience. And that’s really my mission and that’s the reason why we sometimes work with the media to try and get our work seen by more than just dance people. Personally, I want to keep creating different work and different collaborations as a choreographer.

How does the Parisian dance culture differ from the United States?

The Parisian dance culture is its own being, but the dance teacher I had growing up was actually influenced by American dancers, including Merce Cunningham, Martha Graham and Paul Taylor. So, when I came to America my first thing was to go to those temples and see it for what it was and immerse myself in that world. For me it was like going to see the truth and to experience that truth. It was very exciting.

This Q&A was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

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About kddance

I am a dance fanatic living in Dallas, TX. Not only do I teach dance but I also love writing about it. My love for dance started at the age of six when my mom signed me up for my first dance class. I have training in ballet, tap, jazz, lyrical, modern and acrobatics. In college I minored in dance and majored in journalism. I have had articles published in Dance Spirit, Dance Teacher and the Dance Council of North Texas' DANCE publication. Let me share my stories with you.
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